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Cricketing quirks: The coin toss

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Roar Guru
25th April, 2020

Although in and of itself the toss of a coin before the match is not unique to cricket, the emphasis and intrigue surrounding it most certainly is.

A mere formality in Australian rules, tennis and football, a cricket captain who wins the toss gives their side an indelible advantage, with the chance to exploit the conditions in their favour.

So with half an hour until the first ball is bowled – and half of that dreaded warm-up still to go – both captains will convene at the wicket with the umpires. Exchanging team sheets, pleasantries and painful small talk, both have their mind made up as to what they will do should the coin come down in their favour.

Perhaps in overcast conditions the wicket exhibits a green tinge, and the opening batsmen are hoping they will be required only to field. Or maybe on a flat wicket in baking sun, the bowlers pray that they won’t be flinging the leather until later. Either way, there’s 22 players whose attention – with varying degrees of subtlety – becomes fixed on the mini-conference in the centre of the ground.

Joe Root and Tim Paine at the coin toss

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

The coin goes up. With Ian Chappell’s maxim ringing in their ears that “nine times out of ten, you bat first, and on the tenth you think about bowling and bat anyway,” the winning captain makes their decision and informs their teammates with either a shadow drive or an unintelligible flick of the wrist whether they will be batting or bowling.

For the captain on the international stage, next comes the post-toss interview. A quick justification of decision for the winner, and a diplomatic “we would have done the same but there might be a bit in it during the first hour” for the loser. That this interview even exists serves to highlight just how much value cricketers place on the coin toss.

That being said, the skipper doesn’t always get it right, and cricketers have a long memory when it comes to a toss gone wrong.


Ever heard of Roger Federer being criticised for serving first at Wimbledon? Didn’t think so. No such luck for Nasser Hussain, the touring England captain, who in 2002 elected to bowl first at the Gabba. Fast forward to the end of the day, and Australia had posted a mammoth 2-364.

In Hussain’s defence, England claimed the first wicket after 14 overs, it’s just that the second didn’t fall until Ricky Ponting and Matt Hayden had both registered centuries.

Speaking of Ponting, for all his glory as a batsman and a captain, one decision haunts him and Australian cricket to this day: choosing to bowl under overcast skies against England at Edgbaston in 2005. Having lost Glenn McGrath to a freak injury in the warm-up (curse those damned warm-ups again), the Poms piled on the pain, making more than 400 in a day and going on to win the match. The match is seen as the turning point in one of the greatest series ever.

Of course, some captains don’t even get the chance to make the wrong decision. Instead, they hold the mantle as infamously poor coin-tossers. Australian captain Tim Paine is one of these, at one stage boasting a record of just one toss won from eight coins flipped – the worst in history.

Others are only too pleased to boast of their tossing exploits. The captain of an under-12 team I once coached even claimed his enviable winning streak continued when the opposition won the toss, but we still got to bat first anyway.

So whether you or your captain is a good tosser, a bad tosser, or just a straight up tosser, know this: the humble coin flip carries more weight, speculation and scrutiny on the cricket field than in almost any capacity.


Treat it with the respect it deserves.